United States’ aboriginal people can legally hunt in Canada if the land on which they are hunting is in the traditional territory of their people, the BC Court of Appeal has affirmed.
“Claimants who are resident or citizens of the United States can be ‘aboriginal peoples of Canada,’” Justice Daphne Smith ruled in the unanimous May 2 decision.
In denying a government appeal, the court has also affirmed that the Sinixt First Nation continues to have a presence in Canada after Ottawa declared it extinct in 1956.
Richard Lee Desautel is a member of the Lakes Tribe of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State and a U.S. citizen. He was charged with hunting without a licence and hunting big game while not being a resident of British Columbia. after killing a cow elk in the Arrow Lakes area near Castlegar in 2010.
In March 2017, a provincial court judge judge acquitted Desautel. He defended his actions saying he was exercising his Canadian constitutional aboriginal right to hunt for ceremonial purposes in the traditional territory of his Sinixt ancestors.
That territory straddled the current U.S.-Canadian border.
The government had argued Desautel could not hold a constitutionally protected aboriginal right to hunt in Canada because he did not belong to a group that was an “Aboriginal peoples of Canada.”
In acquitting Desautel in December 2017, the trial judge ruled that historical records referred to the Sinixt interchangeably with “the Lakes or the Arrow Lakes people,” and there was “a clear and ancient link between the Sinixt and the Arrow Lakes region.”
And, the appeal court judges agreed.
“Hunting in what is now British Columbia was a central and significant part of the Sinixt’s distinctive culture pre-contact and remains integral to the Lakes Tribe,” Smith ruled. “The Lakes Tribe is a modern collective descended from the Sinixt that has continued to hunt and maintained its connection to its ancestral lands in British Columbia. Mr. Desautel is a member of the Lakes Tribe. Therefore, he has an Aboriginal right to hunt elk in the Sinixt’s traditional hunting territory in British Columbia.”